Insect Telephone

Insects have always been a unique model for exploring ways to “get things done”. This just proves that they are more inventive than we may have thought.

Article: Insects Use Plants Like A Telephone

Dutch ecologist Roxina Soler and her colleagues have discovered that subterranean and aboveground herbivorous insects can communicate with each other by using plants as telephones. Subterranean insects issue chemical warning signals via the leaves of the plant. This way, aboveground insects are alerted that the plant is already ‘occupied’.

Aboveground, leaf-eating insects prefer plants that have not yet been occupied by subterranean root-eating insects. Subterranean insects emit chemical signals via the leaves of the plant, which warn the aboveground insects about their presence. This messaging enables spatially-separated insects to avoid each other, so that they do not unintentionally compete for the same plant.

In recent years it has been discovered that different types of aboveground insects develop slowly if they feed on plants that also have subterranean residents and vice versa. It seems that a mechanism has developed via natural selection, which enables the subterranean and aboveground insects to detect each other. This avoids unnecessary competition.